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HRC launches DOMA repeal campaign
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HRC launches DOMA repeal campaign

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

As Congress returned from its August recess, the HRC announced a new campaign aimed at repealing the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

HRC President Joe Solmonese announced the Repeal DOMA Now campaign on the morning of September 10.

"A bill to repeal DOMA could be introduced as early as next week by longtime LGBT champion of equality Representative Jerry Nadler (D-NY)," Solmonese wrote in an e-mail to supporters. "We're launching a new campaign today to tell Congress and President Obama to repeal DOMA!"

Nadler had announced his intention to introduce a DOMA repeal bill at an HRC fundraiser July 25. Nadler's proposed bill would repeal DOMA's Section 2, which allows states to ignore legal same-sex marriages concluded in other states, and Section 3, which bars federal recognition of same-sex marriages.

"The impact [of DOMA] was symbolic until Massachusetts started marrying people in 2004," HRC's David Stacy told SGN September 10. "Now we can show concrete harms when some married couples are not receiving the federal benefits others receive."

HRC has collected 50,000 surveys from supporters detailing the "concrete harms DOMA brings to the lives of LGBT Americans and their families." The surveys were presented to Nadler on September 9.

As the HRC's Senior Public Policy Advocate - "a nicer word for 'lobbyist,'" he jokes - Stacy has regular contact with members of Congress on all HRC projects, including DOMA repeal.

While he is "optimistic" about the prospects for repeal, he cautions that "there is no Senate bill at this point & and we don't have a real vote count in the House&."

"We're asking many members to change their position - to take a fresh look at [DOMA]" Stacy explained. "With new members who have come [to Congress] since 1996, we want to have individual constituents open up the conversation with them."

Asked about the Washington state Congressional delegation, Stacy starts to tick off names.

"McDermott (D-7). He voted against it. I'm sure he'd vote to repeal&."

"Norm Dicks (D-6) voted for it. It would be interesting to see if he'd reconsider&."

"Doc Hastings (R-4). I don't imagine he's persuadable&."

"Cathy McMorris (R-5) wasn't there [in 1996], but I don't see her voting for repeal&."

"Dave Reichert (R-8) has a better record [on LGBT issues] than most Republicans but I don't know if he'd vote to repeal & although Reichert was a sheriff - he'd certainly understand survivor benefits for officers killed in the line of duty."

"Smith voted for it. Oh, wait, that's Linda Smith. That's a different Smith from the one you have now. Adam Smith (D-9) is the good Smith&."

"Inslee (D-1) wasn't there. Baird (D-3) wasn't there. Neither was Larsen (D-2). They might be persuadable&."

"You don't have marriage in Washington," Stacy continued, "but I think your representatives understand that the benefits of marriage are important to couples, and they'd be receptive to that message."

"Apart from what goes on here [in Washington DC], the really important piece is in-district lobbying," Stacy told SGN. "Since the Republicans used [marriage] as a wedge issue, it's important to break it down to members [of Congress]. What are the impacts? How do people's lives change?"

Nadler's proposed legislation would require states to recognize same-sex marriages concluded in other states where they are legal. A couple married in Massachusetts, for example, could travel to Virginia and still retain all the rights accorded to a married couple even though same-sex marriage is not legal in Virginia.

It would also require the federal government to treat legal same-sex marriages in the same way they treat opposite-sex marriages for the purposes of income tax, social security benefits, federally administered pensions, and all other purposes under federal law.

DOMA is also being challenged on constitutional grounds in federal court.

On August 24, a federal judge dismissed Smelt v United States, one of three DOMA lawsuits. Two others still remain active, however.

GLAD filed Gill v OPM on March 3, challenging DOMA's Section 3 on the basis of the 14th Amendment's "Equal Protection" clause.

On July 8, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley filed Commonwealth v US Department of Health and Human Services, arguing that DOMA exceeds congressional authority in violation of the 10th Amendment.

While the US Supreme Court has so far declined to hear challenges to DOMA, lower federal courts have upheld it, leading many marriage equality activists to conclude that repealing DOMA through legislative action as Nadler proposes to do is a more reliable strategy.

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